The Spine of Night Premiering at SXSW Tonight!

The Spine of Night will be premiering tonight at SXSW. I am extremely excited about this one! If the past output from Morgan King/Gorgonaut has been any indication, Spine will be a rotoscoped masterpiece of sword-and-sorcery. The blurb from the teaser trailer posted on YouTube:

So excited to finally be able to share this, the official teaser trailer for our long-in-the-making hand-rotoscoped psychedelic fantasy epic feature film: 'The Spine of Night.' Starring Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, and Joe Manganiello.


Raid on Black Goat Wood Revised

It has been a long while since I posted anything here on the Outer Dark. I have lots of good reasons for this, including another project that has pulled my attention away, and of course there is my gig as a stay-at-home dad that is never ending. As a peace offering to my long neglected readers, I am posting a revised version of my one-page adventure, Raid on Black Goat Wood. The biggest revision is the map, which I feel is a BIG improvement over the original. I have also adjusted the layout of the document, which I hope will help organize things a bit better and make it easier to navigate the text. I made only a few small tweaks to the text of the adventure, so it remains very close to the original. I would like to thank all of those who downloaded the original and ran it for their groups. This means a lot to me, so thank you all! I hope this new revised version of Raid will be as warmly received as the original release was. Enjoy!

Edit: Found a typo on the PDF. I uploaded the new PDF to Google Docs. If anyone sees any other misspellings please let me know ASAP. Thanks!

Edit #2: Thanks to Aidan for pointing out some pretty glaring typos that I and at least five other people overlooked when the adventure was first written. These have been corrected and the newest PDF has been posted and linked.



I think I have chosen an appropriate title for this post considering everything that has been going on lately. Despite the deathlike silence, I am still very much alive and working very hard toward getting a couple of projects finished and released. Despite the constant need for me to focus my attention on family obligations, I am slowly grinding my way toward getting things done, and I hope to share something very soon.

Recently, I acquired a copy of The Challenges Game System, written by Tom Moldvay and distributed by GameScience back in 1986. Apparently, this is a very obscure game, and hard to obtain. I didn't even know of it's existence until earlier this summer. So, what is Challenges? In Moldvay's own words:
The Challenges Game System offers an easy-to-play alternative to fantasy game systems which are becoming increasingly complex. All of the basic information needed for play is organized into 8 pages, instead of scattered among hundreds of pages of several expansive books.
I can say with confidence that he succeeded in his goal. Challenges takes the crux of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and boils it all down to an eight page game. The only glaring omission is the lack of a bestiary. I am assuming this is something that would be released later, or possibly as part of adventure modules. With my penchant for minimalist games, it should come as no surprise that I like Challenges a lot. Also, consider this: Moldvay released this game without the luxury of the Open Game License, and did so without, to my knowledge, bringing the wrath of TSR, Inc. down on him like a bolt of lighting from upon high!

What does Challenges include? Present are the "core" D&D classes (cleric, sorcerer, thief and warrior) and races (elf, dwarf, hobbit -- yep, you read that right, the game calls them hobbits -- and human), as well as five levels of spells for both sorcerers and clerics. Armor Rating and Life Points work just as AC and HP do in AD&D. The basic combat rules have more in common with the Holmes edition of Basic D&D than AD&D, but advanced combat rules are included as well that introduce a few new wrinkles, though nothing as complicated as that found in AD&D. Despite some differences in terminology, though the intent is always obvious, Challenges is AD&D-lite for all intents and purposes.

One of the big departures from AD&D that Challenges makes is using the Luck score as the game's generic saving throw mechanic, as well as a roll to be used at the Game Master's discretion to resolve a number of situations that might arise. This doesn't seem like a big deal, given that Swords & Wizardry introduced this concept with its release in 2008, but consider the year 1986 and how thinking outside of the box was frowned upon in the D&D community. I know that other games published by TSR, like Gangbusters, used Luck, which I would guess is where Moldvay got his inspiration. I am left wondering if Matt Finch was influenced by Challenges when he decided to use the single saving throw in S&W? Either way, this concept has grown on me over the past few years, though I must admit that I wasn't very impressed when I read the rule in S&W the first time around. As for Challenges, I can see the obvious benefit of using Luck to simplify the game.

I have found a lot to like about Challenges and it has me realizing that minimalist D&D is not only possible, but it can be done without cutting too much away, or loosing any of the core concepts or flavor. Having been gripped with so many challenges myself this past year-and-a-half, it is nice to find a gem like Tom Moldvay's The Challenges Game System to get me get jazzed again, and to help recharge my creative batteries. 


[Mail Call] Black Goat Film Fan Appreciation Pin

A few weeks ago I received a small, black package in the mail, and I wanted to share its contents with you. I opened the envelope to find a small pin for the short Lovecraftian film, Black Goat. Here is what it looks like:

The pin was sent to me by Joseph Nanni, director of the film. If you haven't seen the teaser for Black Goat, go to the official site (linked above) and do so now. Also, if you feel so inclined, head over to the official Facebook page for the film and show your support. Personally, I love what Joseph has shared so far, and I am looking forward to seeing the final film, which IMDb has slated for a 2013 release.


Dave Carson's Shub-Niggurath T-Shirt Available

I wanted to help pass some pretty cool news along. Dave Carson, great friend of the Outer Dark, has a new t-shirt out, this time depicting his macabre masterpiece of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, Shub-Niggurath! Dave has a true talent for capturing the horrors from Lovecraft's imagination, and this illustration is no exception. The price is £18.00 per shirt for UK residents, and £21.00 for those of us who reside outside of the UK. Great price, great shirt, from a great artist... go buy one!


OSR Library Shares Raid on Black Goat Wood Playlog

A friend of the Outer Dark, David Baymiller, has posted a playlog of the one page adventure I wrote, Raid on Black Goat Wood. He has placed his version of the adventure in colonial America, and is using a homebrew of Swords & Wizardry/Labyrinth Lord to run the game. I really enjoyed reading over the rundown of the game, and feel David has more than captured the atmosphere I was aiming for. It is really satisfying to see Raid being put to such great use, and I can't wait to see what happens next!


The Reprints

As I type this, the OSR blogosphere is afire with discussion of the news that Wizards of the Coast will be reprinting the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide. And for good reason. This is HUGE! When you consider the blasé attitude Wizards has always displayed toward classic editions of D&D, and now suddenly they aren't announcing something as simple as reissuing PDF copies of the 1st Edition core books, but they're going balls-out and committing to  full-blown reprints of the books. Complete with updated covers, no less. 

I think the astonishing thing is that this news came right on the heels of the announcement that Wizards has officially begun developing 5th Edition D&D. Lots of big news coming out of their camp in just a handful of days! It is obvious that Wizards is trying to get back on the top of the heap, and make D&D the best selling roleplaying game again (assuming that all the talk of Pathfinder being the current top seller is actually true). 

Obviously, announcing these reprints is a peace offering from Wizards to the old-school D&D community to try and make up for past missteps. I also suspect that this is something of a test as well, to try and gauge just how interested the old timers, as well as those that might not have been around back in the day, are in buying classic products from their back catalog. 

Despite my admission that I am less than moved by the announcement of 5th Edition, I am excited as hell about the 1st Edition reprints. Having proceeds going to the Gygax Memorial Fund has helped stoke this enthusiasm in a major way. I also feel in many ways that this is a win for the Old School Renaissance, and of course that makes me happy. It is obvious to me that someone is starting to listen to the rumblings from our little underground, and are beginning to take this movement seriously. It will be interesting to see if this will lead to other reprints, and perhaps have some bearing on the design of 5th Edition as well.


[Review] Delta's Book of War

Mail call!
I will be the first to admit that math is probably my weakest subject. Oh, I did OK in my math classes in high school and college, but it wasn't because it came naturally to me. This is why I am thankful that we have guys like Daniel "Delta" Collins active in the old-school gaming scene. You see, Delta is passionate about two things: the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons and math. Which is great, because he usually does all the heavy statistical lifting for guys like me. Need an example of Delta's work? Look no further than his analysis of the D&D combat algorithm, which lead to his most excellent "Target 20" core resolution mechanic (d20 + Level  + mods ≥ 20).

A few months back Delta was kind enough to send me a copy of Book of War, which is his rules supplement for fantasy mass combat and miniature wargaming. I wanted to take a moment to talk about the book, and share my review. Now, I have to be up front with the fact that I have not had an opportunity to try out the rules presented in Book of War. But I have been reading the book off and on since October, so I feel I have a pretty good handle on the working of the rules, and how they will play out at the table.

The Physical Thing
Book of War (BoW from here on) is a 24 page saddle-stitched paperback, measuring in at 5.8" x 8.3". The cover is in color, displaying an old painting of a medieval battle. All of the artwork used to illustrate the book was taken from a public domain source, and works well with the given subject matter and tone. The interior is laid out nicely, with a clean single-column design. The font choices and spartan design are very reminiscent of  the original D&D rule book published in '74, and I imagine BoW would look right at home next to the "little brown books." Overall, I found the book easy to read, easy to reference and I didn't notice anything editorially that I felt compelled to nitpick.

Delta wrote this book with these goals in mind (quoted directly from the foreword):
  1. "To create a system that faithfully extrapolates standard D&D combat results on a mass scale."
  2. "To cultivate a game which can stand on it own as fun, entertaining, and elegant."
  3. "To realistically simulate actual historical medieval warfare, wherever possible."
  4. "I also wanted to avoid the need for any paper record keeping during play."
In my opinion, he has succeeded on ever count. Delta also explains that through the use of computers "billions of simulated runs" have helped him analyse the game's statistical data, and present a set of rules that is both solid and balanced. How's that for mathematical heavy lifting?

The Rules
The first section is titled "The Core Rules" and covers Scale (1 figure = 10 men, 1 inch = 20 feet, 1 turn = 30 seconds), Movement (light = 12, medium = 9, heavy = 6), and Combat, which is resolved by rolling a single six-sided die, and comparing the result to an Armor Hit (AH) value (no armor = 3, leather = 4, chain = 5, plate = 6). If the attacker's roll is equal to or higher than the defender's AH, a successful "hit" is landed, and for "normal men" this means that one figure (10 men) is removed from play. All this works in tandem with the original set of D&D rules, and has a simple elegance that I appreciate.

The next section, "Basic Rules," builds upon the core rules by first discussing the Sequence of Play. The game begins by first selecting units, rolling initiative (2d6, high roll takes first turn) and setting up the terrain. Each turn is broken down into three phases: 1) moving forces, 2) attacking opponent with missiles or melee, and 3) morale checks for units who have lost figures during the turn. Unit Selection is discussed next, covering in detail all you may need to know about archers, cavalry, pikemen and horse archers. Details include unit cost, movement rate, Armor Hit value and equipment carried. The remainder of this section has rules form Terrain (randomly determined by rolling 2d6), Formation and Morale (again, rolling 2d6). Delta manages to cover a lot of ground in these four pages.

Next, follows the "Advanced Rules." This is where the more fantastic elements, such as fantasy creatures, wizards, spells and heroes, are introduced. This section also goes into great detail explaining how to convert creatures from D&D over to BoW. Fantasy Units include all the oldies but goodies, broken down into two alignment categories: Lawful Units (elves, dwarves, halflings, men) and Chaotic Units (goblins, orcs, gnolls, etc.). Elite units on both sides of the alignment equation have supernatural abilities available to them (invisibility, regeneration, etc.). Hero units, such as knights, dragons and giants, are also covered. As you can guess, these guys are extremely tough, being 10 Hit Dice or higher. Wrapping up this section are rules for wizards and spells.

Delta has also included a selection of "Optional Rules," which are presented in a modular fashion, allowing players to add as much crunch to the game as they like. Rules for weather, darkness, modifying morale, an expanded armor table, alternate scale options, castles, ships, unit cost options, recovery and disputes. Lots of great crunchy bits to chew on.

One of the more interesting sections of the book is the "Designer Notes," where Delta discusses some of his design decisions. Wrapping everything up is a bibliography, a list of the art credits and a handy BoW reference card.

All in all, I highly recommend Book of War to anyone needing a simple, yet solid, set of mass combat rules for their D&D campaign. What Delta has delivered with this book epitomizes the do-it-yourself spirit the Old-School Renaissance is supposed to be about. BoW is exactly the kind of product that I love seeing come out of the OSR. Personally, I plan to use these rules in an upcoming game, and can't wait to see them in action.


Announcements That I Should Be Excited About, But I'm Not...

There have been two major announcements made in the past couple of months that should have had a significant impact on me, but after hearing each of them, I am left with overwhelming sense of underwhelment...

I make no bones about it, both Black Sabbath and D&D mean a lot to me. I discovered them both in 1980, virtually at the same time, so there has always been a strong connection between Sabbath's music and the game I have played for over 30 years now. The announcements that Sabbath will be recording a new album, and that D&D will have a fifth edition of the game published, should have me as giddy as a schoolgirl. The truth is, I feel more numb than anything about this news. And that makes me a little more than sad.

As I thought about all of this earlier today, a few things occurred to me. What is interesting is how much Black Sabbath, and Dungeons & Dragons have in common. Well, at least in my mind. Both are considered seminal entities in their fields; Sabbath being considered by many the first real metal band, and D&D considered the first roleplaying game. Both have come under heavy fire from the religious right. Black Sabbath has influenced countless bands over the years, spawning an entire genre of bands that emulate them to one degree or another, and the impact D&D has had on the gaming industry itself cannot be easily measured. Who knows where games and gaming would be without D&D? It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it!

Looking at how both D&D and Black Sabbath have been emulated over the years reveals another interesting area of correlation. The term "retro-clone" is thrown around for games like OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and Sword & Wizardry, which have taken various earlier editions of D&D and emulated the rules so closely that it is hard to find the differences sometimes. The same could be said for many of the bands found in the doom metal community, and it would not be a far stretch to refer to many of these Sabbath worshiping bands as retro-clones of the original act. But I think it also needs to be pointed out that in many of these cases the bands have taken the groundwork that Sabbath established, and they have expanded and built upon the original concept. Sometimes with surprisingly original results. This is something I would like to see more of from the Old-School Renaissance and the do-it-yourself game design crowd. A subject best approach on another occasion I suspect...

Getting back to my original line of thought, I guess for me the whole thing comes down to expectations, and the fear of being let down. When people start talking about new editions, reunion tours, movie remakes, reboots, reimaginings, etc. I have trained myself not to get excited, and honestly, I make myself not care. I intentionally make myself not get emotionally invested. The reason is simple: I have had my heart broken too many times by this type of thing, and I am just tired of the perpetual disappointments. The last major attack on one of my sacred cows came in the form of the Conan the Barbarian remake... need I say more?

I guess the next question is whether I will be picking up the new Black Sabbath album, or D&D 5th edition? Time will tell, of course. I admit there is the off chance that I will be pleasantly surprised by one, or even both, but at this stage I prefer to remain skeptical and downright pessimistic about both these announcements.


Coolest Dreamlands Map EVER!

I have the Chaosium published map of the Dreamlands, illustrated by Andy Hopp, hanging on my office wall. I have had it for well over a decade. I love that map, and it would be hard to estimate how many hours I have spent pouring over all of its intricate details. If you were to have asked me if another Dreamlands map was needed my answer would have been, "no!" Then I ran across Jason Thompson's map, and I was floored. I am still trying to soak in all the details Jason has added to his map. It is quite striking, and I fully intend to buy a print if he ever offers them for sale.

While we are on the subject, Jason is in the process of taking his previously published The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath comic, and updating it as a graphic novel. The project has a Kickstarter fund drive that has already reached its goal, which is exciting news. I have read the original Dream-Quest comic, as well as his Clark Ashton Smith tribute, Hyperborea. Excellent stuff. And judging by Jason's most recent work, it looks like this new graphic novel is going to be topnotch.